How many times have you started work on a novel, only to abandon the project a few weeks later? After all, between work, family, and sleep, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get what’s in your head down on paper.
Believe it or not, writing a novel takes less time than you might think. If you can set aside a few hours a day for just 4 weeks, you can finally finish the novel you’ve been meaning to write for years.
If you’re serious about writing your first novel, then just do it. And if you wanna do it fast, here are some tips for doing it in under 4 weeks.
1. Set Your Goals (But Know Your Limits)
What is a novel, to you? Is it 50,000 words, or 100,000? Figure out how long your novel needs to be, then, figure out how many words you write per hour. Once you know those two figures, you will be able to see if your goal is reasonable given the number of hours you can commit to writing each day over the next 4 weeks.
According to author Dean Wesley Smith, “Most professional writers can average about one thousand words an hour, when going on a novel. Not in the struggle of the beginnings, but once the novel is underway. So, simple math says that to write a 90,000 word novel, you have about 90 hours of work.”
Assuming that you can keep up that pace, Smith says you should be able to crank out an entire novel in under a month: “Using that 90 hour number, divide by 3 (weeks) and you get 30 hours per week. Divide that by 7 days and you get about 4 ½ hours per day, or converted to words, 4,500 words per day, which in 21 days will get you a 94,000 word novel.”
Keeping up that pace might be tough for a first-time novelist, but there’s a little wiggle room in there that means you can still get your novel done in less than a month. And if your novel only needs to clock in around 50,000-60,000 words, you might only need two weeks. Starting to sound feasible, right?
2. Go Public
Yes, we writers are solitary creatures. But telling friends and family that you have set this ambitious goal for yourself makes you accountable for your project. If you set a goal to complete a novel in 4 weeks and fail, chances are your Aunt Mildred will bring it up at your next family dinner. If Aunt Mildred’s disdain isn’t enough to motivate you, then I don’t know what is.
3. Be Part of a Community
Consider writing your novel during November, also known as National Novel Writing Month. During NaNoWriMo 2009, over 165,000 participants signed up to try and write a novel in just 30 days, and over 30,000 of them succeeded. If you choose to participate in NaNoWriMo, then you will have support from other participants, weekly “pep-talk” emails from the organizers, and invites to local writing parties hosted in your area.
If you think that speedy writing doesn’t lead to good writing, take note: To date, 27 novels written during NaNoWriMo have been printed by major publishers, and I’m sure plenty of others are earning money for their authors through e-book or print-on-demand sales.
4. Have a Plan
Noted fantasy author Jeff VanderMeer wrote “Predator: South China Seas” in just 8 weeks, but he probably could have gotten done in 4 if he wasn’t also working full-time and working on other novels at the same time. He wrote a great blog post about how he was able to pull this off back in 2008, and it includes great advice on how to best prepare for writing under a tight deadline.
“Most of the time, I wrote new scenes in the mornings, revised existing scenes in the afternoons, and spent my evenings on line-edits and rewrites of individual paragraphs here and there,” he explained. “By structuring my time this way, I made better progress than if I’d just focused on doing new scenes all day until the novel was done.”
VanderMeer also urges writers to outline the entire novel in detail before actually starting the writing process: “If possible, make sure that you have a one- or two-line description of the action for a particular chapter or scene. Know going into the writing for a week exactly what each scene is supposed to do and why…If you don’t know that, you will spend most of your creative energy just trying to figure out what should be happening.”
5. Put the Pedal to the Metal
If four weeks doesn’t seem challenging enough, why not write your novel in just two? This is what Suzanne Pitner calls “Fast Drafting”, and if you can set aside 14 days to do nothing but write, you can put together a manuscript of 70,000 words in that time period by writing 5,000 words per day.
Basically, just drop everything and do nothing but write. Chances are you get at least two weeks of vacation time each year, so why not take it all at once? Maybe 2011 is the year that you actually do something important with your downtime.
The Bottom Line
There are a lot of other tips I could give you, from working in a distraction-free environment to incentivizing the writing process with small rewards along the way. But the most important advice is this: don’t be afraid of failure. Chances are, fear is the only thing holding you back.
To get over your fear of failure, you need to throw caution to the wind. Write as if your life depends on it. And if you get scared, just think of how different your life will be in just four weeks. That should be all the incentive you need to reach your goal.